What Is the Best Degree Path for Becoming a Firefighter?

firefighterIf you have a passion for helping others and the courage to confront emergencies head-on, even when it means running into a burning building, then a career as a firefighter could be the right choice for you. Firefighters may not need a college degree for entry-level positions, but they often do need some sort of postsecondary education and training to develop the skills necessary for saving lives. Training at a fire academy is another integral part of preparation for a career in firefighting. A college education in a field like fire science can lead to career advancement into leadership positons like fire chief.

Postsecondary Education for Firefighters

Entry-level firefighters don’t necessarily need a college degree to attain their first firefighting positions. However, many full-time firefighting positions call for specific certifications that do require some sort of postsecondary education, according the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).  For example, many departments require firefighters to be trained as basic emergency medical technicians (EMTs), which often includes training in assessing patients, checking vital signs, managing cardiac emergencies and trauma situations, respiratory management and the use of basic medical equipment. Though EMT-Basic training programs don’t necessarily award a degree, the education they provide is crucial to success in careers in emergency services, including firefighting.

A number of colleges now offer certificates as well as associate’s and bachelor’s degree programs in firefighting, fire science and fire technology. These programs are designed to not only equip students with the knowledge they need to meet EMT requirements but also help them develop skills such as leadership and fire prevention. Earning a fire science or related degree can provide a competitive edge for firefighters looking to advance to high-level positions such as chief, assistant chief, deputy chief, fire inspector and fire investigator. In fire science degree programs, students learn how to use and maintain firefighting equipment as well as tactics to prevent and control fires of various types. Students of fire science programs study combustible substances, proper handling of hazardous materials, fire investigation, fire codes and rescue procedures.  In addition to classroom instruction, students often receive hands-on training and may have the opportunity to attend a clinical ride-along.

Fire Academy

Upon attaining their first firefighting position, new firefighters learn local building codes, emergency medical procedures and strategies for preventing and fighting fires at state- or local department-run fire academies. Fire academy requirements vary, but some departments require apprenticeship programs where the new firefighter works under the guidance of an experienced firefighter for as long as four years. In addition to completing fire academy, firefighters often must earn EMT-Basic certification, which requires passing both written and practical portions of a national examination.

Firefighting is a rewarding job for those with the courage to do it. Though a formal degree is not required for all entry-level firefighting jobs, postsecondary training is essential to teach new firefighters how to prevent and control fires, use specialized equipment and rescue injured victims.

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